Police attempting to crack down on lockdown rule-breakers have been criticised for targeting walkers and snowball throwers with £200 Covid fines.
Forces across the country have said they will enforce the nationwide restrictions more strictly amid reports the government is planning even tougher legislation to ensure people stay at home.
The force said the friends could have stayed in their local area and described their actions as “clearly not in the spirit of the national effort” to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
A few hours later it announced it would review all of the penalty notices it has issued during the third lockdown after receiving guidance that the regulations did not restrict the distance someone can travel for exercise.
One of the walkers, Jessica Allen from Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, told the BBC that she and her friend were shocked to be confronted by seven officers as they arrived at the Foremark Reservoir.
She said: “As we drove in there was a police van, a police car, and there were loads of police there. I genuinely thought someone had been murdered; the place is normally so quiet.
“The next thing, my car is surrounded. I got out of my car thinking ‘There’s no way they’re coming to speak to us’. Straight away they start questioning us.
“I said we had come in separate cars, even parked two spaces away and even brought our own drinks with us.”
She claimed that the officers told her that she was not allowed to bring a hot drink because it was “classed as a picnic”.
Asked about the decision to fine her and her friend Eliza Moore £200 fine each, Ms Allen said: “It’s bonkers, isn’t it.”
Meanwhile officers in Shropshire issued a warning on Twitter that people throwing snowballs faced a £200 fine because it was “obviously not a justifiable reason to be out of your house”. After an outcry on social media, they later apologised and deleted the tweet in question.
Officers are also stopping people in the street to check whether they have a reasonable excuse for leaving their homes. There have been reports of passengers being questioned at train stations in London, a couple being stopped as they walked with a pushchair in Birmingham city centre, and shoppers in Maidenhead in Berkshire being handed leaflets asking them: “Why are you here?”
The Metropolitan Police said that Londoners “can expect officers to be more inquisitive as to why they see them out and about” to make sure they have a reasonable excuse for leaving their homes.
Home secretary Priti Patel, when asked whether police would question people sat on park benches during the lockdown, defended the tougher approach and told BBC Radio 4: “It’s right that police act robustly.”
She added: “Throughout this coronavirus pandemic, during the last lockdown, the police have been asking individuals why are they out and about and should they be out and about, when the message right now is stay at home.”
The government has sought to reinforce its “stay at home message” by launching a new advert, fronted by England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, urging everyone in England to “act like you’ve got” coronavirus.
Boris Johnson said: “I know the last year has taken its toll – but your compliance is now more vital than ever.”
The Daily Telegraph reported that ministers were considering a “tough crackdown” amid concern at the level of public compliance with current regulations.
Current lockdown guidance instructs the public to limit exercise to once per day and stay inside their local area – but the legislation in England does not limit the distance someone can travel to exercise or the amount of exercise.
In Wales, where non-essential travel is banned, national park bosses have shut all car parks in Snowdonia to try to curb the number of people visiting the area.